One cost of business few leaders pay attention to is the cost of a disengaged employee. Although leaders can readily identify a disengaged employee, there’s no line item on the profit and loss statement identifying its true cost. If there were, most leaders would go out of their minds figuring out how to lower it.

How do organizations identify disengaged employees? Often, they are tardy. Because they’re not committed to their employer, they don’t care if they arrive late to work. Their tardiness has a cost associated with it, yet it’s difficult to measure.

Disengaged employees are also frequently absent from work. The reasons or excuses they give are many. The cost comes with making others in the organization unproductive as they try to move forward with a piece of the team missing. This cost is compounded by the cost of low morale and burnout.

Productivity is also affected when two disengaged employees are more engaged in conflict than in getting their work done. They spend much complaining to others, undermining their co-workers, or worrying about their next confrontation and what they’ll say or do. The true costs can’t be measured, but the damage is significant.

Disengaged employees are often more interested in office politics than getting their work done. This cost is also extremely difficult to measure, but it’s hidden in there somewhere.

Quality of workmanship is another cost disengaged employees burn up. When employees don’t engage, on occasion, their work has to be redone because it’s incorrect or incomplete. As their minds go somewhere else instead of to their work, quality suffers. Measuring the cost depends on a wide variety of factors.

Along the same theme, important safety issues can result when employees disengage from their work. That cost can usually be measured, and it can be significant.

An organization where disengaged employees interact with customers is doomed. These employees often display a service posture of indifference and laziness. Customers pay attention to employees’ attitude and either give your organization their loyalty or walk away. Measuring this long-term loss is troubling at best.

Disengaged employees are not loyal and leave when it’s convenient for them. If they stay too long, truly loyal employees will become frustrated with management’s tolerance of the disengaged employees’ performances. As a result, they might take off and find a better place to work. Employee turnover always costs.

What’s perhaps the largest hidden cost of a disengaged employee? Lost opportunity. Disengaged employees don’t seem to care about the future of the organization they’re with, so they don’t tune in to opportunities to make things better. They don’t think about innovative solutions to lower costs or acquire more customers, nor do they find creative ways to add value and grow the business.

Nothing good comes from a disengaged employee.

Exceptional leaders strive to create an environment in which employees are engaged. They want employees who are committed to the organization and passionate about their jobs, people who give that extra effort when it’s needed.

How can your organization create that environment? Here are seven drivers of engagement:

  • Have in place a capable, competent management team.
  • Practice a high level of ethical leadership.
  • Foster an abundance of teamwork and cooperation.
  • Consistently demonstrate respect for employees.
  • Practice fairness at all levels of the organization.
  • Insist that different ideas and opinions are heard.
  • Ensure that an atmosphere of trust exists throughout the organization.

To avoid being bitten by the hidden costs of disengaged employees, exceptional leaders take this issue seriously. Instead of viewing employee engagement as a program, they see it as a competitive strategy. Strong leaders also do their best to measure employee engagement and invest in the areas that require attention, then measure and invest again.